The Keystone pipeline as a Vietnam crisis

A letter to John Kerry on the Keystone pipeline and civil disorder..

Tomorrow (22 April) is the closing date for public submissions to the State Department on the Keystone pipeline approval. I just put in my pennyworth – it is an international issue, else why has it landed on Kerry’s desk? Here it is, raising an issue that’s not been properly aired.

Dear Secretary Kerry:
I invite you to consider that approval of the Keystone pipeline would be divisive and lead to months or years of turmoil. There is no doubt that its construction would be the target of massive civil disobedience and non-violent protest. I personally would think such action justified, but regardless of the merits it cannot be ignored as a factor in your and the President’s decision.

You are both, by temperament and conviction, conciliators. Your approval of the Keystone pipeline would ignite a bitter and long-drawn-out conflict that would be chalked up to your legacies and undermine your historic reputations. Lives might be lost; certainly some protesters would be injured and a good number serve time in jail. It is also a burden on policemen to ask them to use force to protect a private interest many of them will think insufficient.

It is sadly possible that the intense anger aroused, and the broad non-violent protest already announced, would lead fringe groups to engage in violent sabotage. A pipeline is very vulnerable to this. I’m sure that the overwhelming majority of opponents of the pipeline would join me in rejecting and condemning such tactics. Still, the possibility is a real cost of your decision.

Taking these severe risks into account is not “giving in to blackmail”. If the pipeline were truly necessary to US national security, the risks should be accepted. But no case has been made that it is. The pipeline would merely allow the commercial development of a dirty Canadian oil resource to proceed, and US oil prices to stay slightly lower than they would otherwise be, at enormous environmental cost. Any benefits it offers are largely private; the harms are public.

When you weigh all the costs carefully and soberly, the Keystone pipeline is simply not worth hazarding the credibility of your office, the President, and the US Government.

Yours sincerely”

Author: James Wimberley

James Wimberley (b. 1946, an Englishman raised in the Channel Islands. three adult children) is a former career international bureaucrat with the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. His main achievements there were the Lisbon Convention on recognition of qualifications and the Kosovo law on school education. He retired in 2006 to a little white house in Andalucia, His first wife Patricia Morris died in 2009 after a long illness. He remarried in 2011. to the former Brazilian TV actress Lu Mendonça. The cat overlords are now three. I suppose I've been invited to join real scholars on the list because my skills, acquired in a decade of technical assistance work in eastern Europe, include being able to ask faux-naïf questions like the exotic Persians and Chinese of eighteenth-century philosophical fiction. So I'm quite comfortable in the role of country-cousin blogger with a European perspective. The other specialised skill I learnt was making toasts with a moral in the course of drunken Caucasian banquets. I'm open to expenses-paid offers to retell Noah the great Armenian and Columbus, the orange, and university reform in Georgia. James Wimberley's occasional publications on the web

31 thoughts on “The Keystone pipeline as a Vietnam crisis”

  1. You are making a worthwhile point and I agree with your reasoning and your motivation; but DAMN if that doesn’t sound like a threat! I hate to say it, but there it is.

    1. I’m not making any threat. I couldn’t stop James Hansen and Bill McKibben if I tried, and quite possibly even they could not stop what they’ve started. I’m a foreigner living in Spain. This an American fight.

      This is in a way the obverse of the gun control issue: the pros don’t really care all that much about it (except for a few strategists who see its symbolic importance), while the antis care passionately. A few cents on a gallon of gasoline against the future of the planet.

  2. Dear Secretary Kerry:

    We saw the bastards and their NRA win one by outright lies. Time for some payback. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, and this pipeline for their “constitutional right” to buy guns without background checks. An emphatic hollow-pointed left-wing NO on this dumb right-wing pipeline. Thank you.

    Yours sincerely.

  3. “Taking these severe risks into account is not “giving in to blackmail”.”

    Nah, more like hoping somebody will blackmail you, so that you’ve got an excuse to give into them.

    Oh, and BfA? Grow up. Seriously.

      1. Ah. I see it’s the previous commenter. I second Brett. The civil unrest will be justified by what’s at stake, not as retaliation. And I don’t like talk of deadly weapons, even in hyperbole.

        1. If the global warming movement reaches the point where they start resorting to terrorism if they don’t get their way on something, the politics of global warming are going to get very ugly, very fast, in this country. I can think of nothing that would move the public from thinking people concerned with global warming were well intentioned, to thinking they’re dangerous lunatics, than that.

          1. That’s why I and everybody sensible in the movement will oppose violence. Climate disruption meets some of the tests for just war or just insurrection – just cause and proportionality. The Maldives, Bangladesh and the Netherlands have a strong paper casus belli against the USA and China right now. But two conditions are not satisfied: exhaustion of other remedies, and a decent chance of winning.

            Oil and coal executives, denialist shills, and bought politicians should remember that the practice> of terrorism is not governed by Aquinas’ rules. If Bangladesh is drowned, or the monsoon fails, some refugees will nurse a serious grudge. In interwar Turkey, Armenian terrorists executed in revenge seven of the Ottoman Turkish officials responsible for the 1915 genocide.

          2. Do you realize just how much you sound like the ‘insurance salesman’ leaning against a display case at a store, intoning, “Nice place you got here. Be a shame if it burned to the ground.”

      2. Members of my family died in arms to support the passage of the Banana Framework Agreement…it never should have come to violence, but the issues involved were very slippery, making a peaceful resolution una-peeling.

  4. Well, since we will not get a carbon tax / cap & trade law, the next best approach environmentalists have is adding overhead to every carbon increasing action, reducing overhead on carbon decreasing ones.

    Pipelines – give ’em hell. Solar farms in tortoise territory – let it slide.

    Asymmetric lawfare.

    1. The US, unlike most of signers of the Kyoto Protocol, has reduced its carbon emissions by about 12% to 1994 levels.

      1. This is a bit misleading, because US per capita carbon dioxide emissions are among the highest in the OECD (and even in the world). In the OECD, only Gibraltar, Luxembourg, and Australia are worse (Australia, like the US, relies heavily on coal for electricity; Gibraltar and Luxembourg are unusual cases). Going from 21 tons CO2 per capita to 17 tons seems like an impressive reduction, until you realize that most of Europe is in the single digits.

        Also, it’s not 12% compared to 1990 levels, the baseline for Kyoto Annex I countries; it’s 12% compared to 2005. Emissions have actually increased since 1990.

        In short, it’s not yet time to break our arms patting ourselves on the back.

        1. Charles did say ‘to 1994 levels’. Confused me at first read also. As a sentence, seems designed to give that impression.

        2. Gibraltar and Luxembourg

          Small countries tend to be at the top and at the bottom of most lists, simply because small samples are prone to extreme scores.

  5. Simultaneously hyperbolic and self-satisfied. Gunter Grass couldn’t have done it better.

    1. I’m flattered by your insult. A giant with large feet of clay. His work will outlive his many personal and political failings.

  6. As a practical matter sabatogage of the pipeline is hardly needed. First, Keystone has a track record of pipeline leaks in Canada all on their own. Second, tar sands “oil” is laden with so much fine grit that essentially the “oil” is a polishing compound grinding away at the inside of the pipe, pumps and valving 24/7/365.

    1. Very reassuring, especially to the locals living near the planned route.
      The silver (?) lining is that nobody will want to steal this stuff, unlike gas or gasoline.

    2. Footnote from the EPA comment to State:

      EPA notes that dilbit [diluted bitumnen] contains some very toxic materials “such as benzene, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and heavy metals” that “could cause long-term chronic toxicological impacts” to wildlife.

      1. PAH’s, what we used to call hexamethyl chicken wire when I worked with this “stuff”, are highly efficient at bonding those heavy metals and delivering a double shot carcinogen and heavy metal poison cocktail.

        If it was not the Chinese buying this stuff, it would be far too expensive to process safely. “Safely” does not apply where it will be delivered.

  7. What most puzzles me about this project is the heavy overlap between those who support building the pipeline and those who were apoplectic over the Kelo decision. These people do realize that the Keystone project invokes eminent domain in order to effectively give the land to a private business, right?

    Or maybe I’m not really that puzzled.

    1. It’s not really all that confusing: Kelo was the Court saying abusive eminent domain, where they take property to transfer it to a private entity to use for a private purpose, on the pretext that they’ll pay more taxes, was OK. If Keystone uses it, I’m not enthusiastic about it, but a pipeline, which operates as essentially a public utility, is about as traditional eminent domain as a road or bridge. It certainly wasn’t what Kelo was about.

        1. Yeah, and so’s a toll road. Aside from my general objection to eminent domain, I don’t object to profit being made in the context of eminent domain. What was obnoxious about Kelo wasn’t that the developer expected to make a profit. It was that the developer wasn’t really engaging in a public use, and the only public ‘purpose’ was the expectation the developer would pay more in taxes than the existing owners.

          It’s bad enough they don’t maintain a bright line requirement of actual public use, but nobody’s property is safe if the potential for higher taxes constitutes a qualifying purpose.

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